Category Archives: Foreign Finds

Spreading on the Pumpkin Cheer

pumpkin dup

About the time of year when carols strike up in endless succession, peppermint and cinnamon emerge from their warm-weather hibernation.  Lattes abound in seasonal flavors and pumpkin is suddenly the guest of honor at dinner.

In the spirit of things, last Saturday I prepared my contributions to our Thanksgiving extravaganza. After last year, my chestnut stuffing and pumpkin dip were requested for a return appearance.

Clockwise from left: Turkey, chile roasted sweet potato, cranberry sauce, gravy, sweet potato and spinach gratin, mashed potatoes, Cajun potato salad, stuffing, roasted veggies, glazed carrots, green bean casserole and a trifecta of macaroni and cheese

Dinner, clockwise from left: Turkey, chile roasted sweet potato, cranberry sauce, gravy, sweet potato and spinach gratin, mashed potatoes, Cajun potato salad, stuffing, roasted veggies, glazed carrots, green bean casserole and a trifecta of macaroni and cheese

The stuffing recipe was covered in one of my first posts (“yay” for one year of blogging), and the pumpkin dip also received a nod.  In retrospect, however, I think the dip deserves another moment of glory.

The recipe was lifted from another blog, turned on to me by a friend, Haute Apple Pie.  My friend brought the dip along for a holiday party and immediately it entered my repertoire of go-tos.  In the States, this was complicated by the fact that the dip is best served with sliced apples and a particular Swedish cookie, Anna’s Original Ginger Thins.  Locating the Ginger Thins was a bit of a challenge, but you could always count on your local Ikea.

2012-11-23 10.13.40

Which brings me to the next challenge.

Locating just about anything in Ikea can bear semblance to assisting Indiana Jones in finding the Lost Ark. You have two options: submit to Ikea’s intricately woven maze of ergonomic chairs and locate the cookies in approximately 3.25 hours, or shave off time by gambling with a case of vertigo and take on Ikea in reverse.  If you choose the latter, just remember, when you inevitably lose sight of up from down, walk away from the smell of meatballs.

It's not your fault.

It’s not your fault.

By some coincidence, Ginger Thins are available in all Korean Emarts.  And in three flavors, no less! We must take this as a sign that we are to consume as much pumpkin dip as humanly possible this holiday season.

Great as an appetizer or dessert, it’s always well received.

Pumpkin Dip

From Haute Apple Pie, with modifications

Yield: 2 cups

1 cup fresh pumpkin puree (For Korean kabocha squash, halve then scoop out seeds and microwave about 12-15 minutes or until tender. Scoop out soft flesh and mash with a fork.)

1 package cream cheese

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice, or any available combination of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and cloves.

apples, to serve

Anna’s Original Ginger Thins

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, then serve with Ginger Thins and sliced apples.

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Your Guide to Getting Minted

“Always remember to look up and down.”

A friend’s advice after I’d just arrived certainly rang true.  Upon exploration of my new surroundings I found restaurants stacked four tall and neon-illuminated stairwells that led to karaoke heaven.  Born and reared in a nation never short on space, this was a new concept.  Big box super marts housing just over seventeen area codes weren’t all that shock-inducing.  Sprawl was a luxury I’d taken for granted.

Fields juxtapose with the surrounding high-rises

I admired the Korean ability to make efficient use of the space available.  When it came to homegrown produce, nearly everyone had a personal stockade of plants.  Whether the pots lined an apartment overhang or lettuce sprouted just between the highway and the on-ramp, every vacant patch was teeming with life.

Something’s minty…

Along my morning commute, I’ve noticed a bloom of plants that’s intrigued me.  Bearing a striking resemblance to the purchased-then-killed mint plants of failed garden endeavors, I gave it a whiff last spring.  Dismissing the notion, I wrote it off as a bountiful dream.  The other day, for whatever reason, I decided to give it another sniff.  This time I was certain–mint it was! My technical pruning knowledge quickly flew out the window.  I tugged and ripped like a mad-woman, anxious to fill my purse.  Buzzing off the menthol, my mind was on repeat–tabouleh, mojitos, freshhhh freshhhh>REPRISE tabouleh, mojitos, fresh fresh freshhhh…

When I found myself at home with my harvest, I figured it was time to determine a use.  Realizing I was packing heat with a red onion (also a hot commodity), I settled on an old stand-by.  A version of tabouleh, I found this recipe a few years ago in Cooking Light.  Its fresh ingredients and filling protein provide all the summer satisfaction one could dream of.  I had to do without my favorite part, the golden raisins, but it was still delicious. I tried substituting regular, but it just wasn’t the same.  

Moral of the story?  A second opinion is worth a million bites.

Healthy and delicious

Black Lentil and Cous Cous Salad

From Cooking Light, October 2008

1/2 cup dried black lentils (Or any variety, I used green)

5 cups water, divided

3/4 cup uncooked couscous

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered 

1/3 cup golden raisins

1/3 cup finely chopped red onion

1/3 cup finely chopped cucumber 

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind 

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Rinse lentils with cold water; drain. Place lentils and 4 cups water in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain.

2. Bring remaining 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually stir in couscous and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Combine lentils, couscous, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, tomatoes, and remaining ingredients in a large bowl.

Yield: 6 1-cup servings

***For questions about where to find the ingredients in Korea, check out the new Ingredient Guide!***

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Hot on the Trail

The High Park Fire

Fire! Fire on the mountain… Great when backed by the Grateful Dead’s chords, not so great when the truth of the matter. As I’ve said before, I have roots in Colorado.  Colorado’s been quite the hot topic lately, literally and figuratively.  As Smokey Bear warns at the entrance to the state’s  forests, the threat of wildfires is always present.  This season, unfortunately, Colorado’s number came up. 

The authority on the matter

Colorado has been hit particularly hard by wildfires this season.  With a lightening strike on June 9, the region around Fort Collins, Colorado, was set ablaze.  The homes of a multitude of living things, as well as my fondest memories–the Poudre Canyon, Rist Canyon, Lory State Park, Horsetooth Mountain Park–all went up in flames.  Now 100% contained, the High Park Fire has left a trail of devastation.  257 homes, 87,284 acres.   

Near Colorado Springs, the Waldo Canyon Fire was a scene from our wildest nightmares.  Declared the most destructive in the state’s history, the fire raged into suburban subdivisions destroying countless family homes.  Declared a disaster area by President Obama, the situation is bleak. 

While all may be a part of Mother Nature’s cycle, it doesn’t change the fact of the matter.  There are a lot of pieces yet to be picked up across the state I love.  In this tough time for Colorado, do a little rain dance and send cooling thoughts their way. 

Whether we are the ones affected by a burning blaze, or we’re lost on a hunt for frozen scallops, we all need a little help sometimes.  In exchange for your rain dance, I’d like to be of assistance. 

I’ve been working hard on a new component of my website. In the directory of pages, you’ll find the addition of “Ingredients Guide.”  Check here to find a glossary of ingredients as well as a listing of where you might find them in Korea.  There’s also a list of useful in-person and online retailers.  Check it out – Ingredients Guide!

After stocking your pantry, if you’ve got a little change rattling around and you’re thinking of Colorado, consider donating to one of the organizations below.

Trees, Water & People

A Fort Collins-based organization doing exceptional work in the community.  As a former intern, I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of their programs.  In the area affected by the High Park Fire, they will not only re-plant trees, but will reconstruct the devastated ecosystems to create a forest that is healthier and safer than before.

High Park PAC

The remnants of their bedroom

Some friends were personally affected by the fire, and in response, they’ve set up the High Park Relief PAC.  Currently in the process of establishing tax-deductable 501(c)3 status, they’re working to raise funds to directly help members of their community. 

Colorado Professional Firefighters Foundation

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Finding the Curry-age

I’ve always been super intimidated by Indian cooking.  Before visiting the country, it was hard to get a real grasp on kormas versus koftas, and dosas and dal. Something about the foreign charm of ghee and cardamom kept my kitchen rather bland and the Indian restaurant well patronized.

Hello, gorgeous.

In attempts to discover something outside of my standard tikka masala,  I’d time my visits to the lunch hour so as to sample the buffet.  The real deal clincher was the continual output of fresh naan bread, washed down with pitchers of mango lassi.  Needless to say, my lack of self-discipline quickly confirmed a ticket on the fast train to uncomfortably full. Not to mention the fast train to porcelain heaven.

Subsequently, with my mother at my side, we staged a personal intervention and put a ban on ever again going all-you-can-eat.  It was just toooo delicious.  When we found ourselves in the restaurant alongside buffet buccaneers, we simply had to breathe deeply and look the other way.  Our fate was sealed, and we calmly ordered controlled portions from the menu.

This seemed to perplex the curious Indian servers, as whatever we ordered often times was included on the buffet.  Before putting in our order, the slew of waiters standing at attention would one-by-one try their hand at defying the laws of surface tension.  They’d miraculously fit one extra drop in our water glasses and reiterate, “Madam, the buffet?” Yes sir, we’re crazy (as well as pathetic).  Can I have a “100-calorie pack” for dessert?

Since returning from my trip to India, I’ve been trying to muster up the courage to recreate the deliciousness that was each meal.  The other day, I caught a whiff of the spice blend I smuggled home while cleaning the cupboards. Okay, I lie.  While cramming things in, it fell on my head.  Either way, things were set in motion.

On our next to last eve in India, we were lucky enough to share a kitchen with Shivani. I was a little reluctant after realizing she was the wife of one particular shop owner.  This guy had sent me on a mission for small bills, then upped his price and refused to bargain as soon as I was cash in hand.  Regardless, she was the only cooking class in town and had many rave reviews. 

Cooking with Shivani

We were greeted at her home where she had a table set up and layered with ingredients.  First on the agenda was chai while we discussed our menu for the day. We learned to make many things, but most importantly, Shivani made Indian food approachable.  I took what I learned, added a subtle twist, and finally achieved masala enlightenment.  Here’s a run-down of the basics. 

Tofu Paneer/Chicken and Lentil Masala

Serves 4

Every Indian “gravy” starts with a base of browned butter and caramelized onions.

3 Tbsp butter

hot spices: 7 black peppercorns, 5 whole cloves, 1 black cardamom pod (lightly crushed), 1 tsp whole black cumin seeds

1 large onion, diced

I had always been under the impression that most Indian foods began with ghee.  This isn’t necessarily the case.  Shivani started her gravies (referring to the saucy base of any “wet” curry) with plain ol’ butter.  Basically, you just start out by melting the butter in a medium-hot pan.  Pay close attention, and when the butter begins to get the golden tone, toss in your “hot” spices.  Wait just a minute until they pop.  Next, add your onion.  Shivani liked to start with red onion, but for my dish I used yellow and it worked just fine.  Once the onion is in the pan, turn down the heat a bit and allow to gradually brown.

Golden goodness

To avoid a case of Dehli Belly, simmer until the butter separates from the curry. 

3 Tbsp ginger/garlic paste (I was at a loss for equipment to make a proper paste and just used finely minced)

2 Tbsp garam masala (Indian spice blend)

1/2 tsp salt (unless included in your garam masala blend)

1 can diced tomatoes

3/4 C water

When the onions have come to a nice even brown, turn the heat back up to medium-high and toss in the ginger/garlic paste.  Saute quickly.  Next, add garam masala, salt, tomatoes, water and bring to a simmer.  Allow the mixture to simmer until you can see little bubbles start to form across the surface.  Around the ring of the bubbles and at the edge of the curry, you should see a clear liquid starting to separate from the gravy base.  This is the butter.  Once this happens, your bowels are safe and you’re ready to move on.

Starting to separate

It’s gravy, baby. 

1/4 C plain yogurt

2 tsp lemon juice

1 C green lentils, cooked

1 lb. tofu or chicken (I seasoned with tandoori spices and seared)

When you’ve made it this far, pat yourself on the back and crank up the sitar.  You’re almost there.  All that remains is just stirring in the final ingredients and heating the dish through.  I promised to veer away from chicken, so I’m going to recommend adding in tofu as a stand-in for paneer.  While I’m not exactly sure what it is that separates the two, it worked just fine.  If your sauce seems a bit dry, feel free to add more water at this point and just allow to simmer to thicken.

Voila!

Congratulations!  You’ve just made your first Indian curry.  Truly just a matter of getting your hands on the spices, once you’ve done that, you’re good to go.  Now on to perfecting the naan

Special thank you to Tak Shivani for sharing her culinary secrets.  If you’ll be in the Pushkar vicinity, I highly recommend her course.

Shivani’s Sanjha Chula Flavours

www.pushkarcookingart.com

takshivani@yahoo.com

+91-9414656185

Pushkar, Rajasthan

India

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(Cue creeper) “Are you Russian..?”

The first step to healing is admitting you have a problem.  I think we might have a situation. 

Somewhere between the attempts of Marlboro to capitalize on the inner cowboy of teenage boys and Abercrombie’s convincing “If you buy our clothes, you WILL end up with a sexy hunk” campaigns, I fell for Starbucks.  They’re pretty much equivalent to Big Brother in their grasp of our society, and their [corporate] sins rival those of Charlie Sheen. I don’t even recognize myself anymore! What am I doing amongst their converts? 

We’re in trouble.

Everyone has their vices, right?  It could be SO much worse.  I could be ducking into the clothing racks of Neiman Marcus  to dodge the debt collectors.  I could be living in an apartment filled with cats! Or even worse, filled with a lot of nothing in particular! I could be a hoarder. No no, I’ve chosen my poison.  I prefer a nice deep roast finished with a bit of soy milk. Starbucks’ just happens to be fresher (on this side of the world).  And bolder. Crap.

Regardless, the guilty culprit in all this, and thus the one who shall endure the fury, is our friend caffeine.  The track of life just doesn’t play the same without a mild case of the shakes and a cupful at hand. I find myself today between a rock and a hard place.  And so it is. 

I’m not quite sure at what point the addiction began.  Maybe it was when I first acknowledged the cool factor of  “Don’t talk to me until after I’ve had my coffee (sneer).” How very emo.  Perhaps it was in attempts to get the attention of that dark-haired guy from Philosophy? (Aside: HE most certainly wouldn’t have chosen Starbucks! What is WRONG with me!!??)  How have I ended up here!?  

In all honesty, I think most likely my 6am job in the river rafting industry is to blame.  I mean, really I was just being safety cautious.  Nobody’s aware enough to heed all stop signs and mind the yellow line at that hour unless caffeine snaps them into action.  And the drive to work was AT LEAST 10 minutes.   It’s not my fault.

While I’m coming to terms with my existing situation, let’s shift the blame a little and start pointing the finger.  Shall we start with sexual predators?  Or maybe you’d rather look first to alcoholics? Let’s start with alcohol and save the best for last!

As I’ve mentioned before, this country has quite the drinking habit.  There’s nothing  like watching your superiors belt out their rendition of “Material Girl” then hang their heads in a drunken stupor.  As a friend warned me before embarking on this journey, if you choose to drink with them, be prepared.  And after you do, be ready to acknowledge the badge of honor you’ve earned in everyone’s hearts when you stumble into the office the next morning. 

Bottles of the spirit of choice, soju, are available on every corner for about $1.  With a flavor profile similar to jet fuel, it’s a steal of a good deal.  At this point, you may be beginning to understand  why I’ve pretty much sworn off the stuff.  Seeing as I’ve just signed another year of my life away, however, I’m feeling like I need to give it another chance. 

With coffee and addiction drifting through my head, an idea occured to me. A genius idea. I have an old roommate whose mother once sent her a batch of homemade Kahlua.  At the time, my roommates and I were battling the post-college blues, and this bottle was something of a savior.  It added little drops of happiness to our Sunday cups of coffee  and was even better in White Russians.  Who knew you could make Kahlua on your own? Reflecting fondly, I thought of it. Kahlua SOJU. 

Here’s what I came up with.  This recipe is incredibly easy, most ingredients are either on hand or may be grabbed from the corner shop, and it WILL change your life.  Nothing like pooling your resources and making lemonade out of lemons. Don’t be shy, you’re welcome to kiss my feet.

Pantry staples

Kahlua Soju

 3 Cups Freshly Brewed [Starbucks] Coffee

3 Cups Light Brown Sugar

3 Cups Soju (About 1.5 small green bottles.  If you’re feeling frisky, go ahead, pour in that extra  half-bottle!)

3 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract or 3/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Powder (I had extract at my disposal, but you can find the powder at pretty much any Korean grocery store)

Brew coffee, then pour into a pan on the stove top.  Add sugar and heat over low-medium heat just until dissolved.  Allow to cool, then stir in soju and vanilla.  Enjoy. 

Next, I was faced with the task of determining just how best to enjoy my creation.  I could drink it straight (I did.).  But that’s kind of boring.  I could put it in my coffee. That just sets me up for a double dose of dependency, so let’s evade that one.  At this point, my mind drifted to Russians.

As with any country (except for perhaps Thailand, which harbors HOARDS), you can find a few bad eggs here. That’s right, it’s time to discuss sexual predators!  Usually they’re found, or rather they find you, at only the most inopportune times.  Thanks to a weekly boat from Vladivostok and a shaky economy, Korea has been graced with the presence of a few economic migrants who don’t have English as a native tongue.  These migrants count on their curves for job security and apparently are in high demand.  It takes only a few days before any light-haired girl receives her first proposition from aforementioned predators.  And what a cautious, delicate proposition it is. “Are you Russian..?” Yes, and I’ve been waiting all day to go home with you.  Bug off.

Either way, I decided I was onto something with the Russian thing.  I stirred  in some milk and enjoyed.  It was dangerously delicious.  It needed a name.  As obvious as it might be, what with WHITE Russians and BLACK Russians, I decided to side-step the racial slur.  It took a minute, and then I had it.  The Russian Hunter.

They “creep” up on you.

 

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The Tastier Side of Smuggling

WANTED: Individuals with a yearning for adrenaline, a flexibility to adapt to a changing environment, and an ability to work well under pressure.

No, I am not seeking recruits for Human Resources.  I’m talking about mules.  Those willing to conceal in pursuit of  palatable bliss.  

While some have remarked on my emerging transit ring as a bit of a farce, I see the actions I’ve taken as nothing less than crucial.  In Korea, along with ovens, tacos and the evasive cranberry, a proper selection of spices tends to be something of a former life.  In my mind,  not much transcends the explosion of flavor brought on by just the right amount of garam masala.  Give me coriander with a sprinkling of tumeric and I’m in heaven.  With my eye on the prize, I summoned my inner ingenuity. 

Armed with forgotten favors and blackmail, I have lured many into my service.  One by one, they surrender their bounty and then are free to go.  City dwellers bring the Starbucks.  Lime juice is taken on by the loving family back home.  Despite the efficiency of this system, I still yearn for the rush myself.

When the destination for my summer vacation was determined to be Bali, I was giddy at the thought of towering volcanoes and white sand beaches.  Little did I know what the true highlight would be.  While grabbing a quick bite at a cafe in Seminyak, I noticed a steady stream of patrons filtering in and out of a neighboring shop.  Like felines drawn to catnip, all who entered seemed to be blinded by the light.  I soon understood.

Using the restroom as a cover, I excused myself from the table and slipped next door to investigate.  What I found nearly took my breath away.  Garbanzo beans, couscous, Campbell’s Soup, and prosciutto covering the shelves.  In the corner, I spotted Kinder chocolate.  By the time I found the Indian section, I had lost all self-control.  Among the gems, I uncovered Tikka Masala Paste. Now, perhaps I should have considered the weight of the glass jar in my carry-on.  And perhaps I should have prioritized the curry paste, cans of soup, and satchels of dried legumes.  But, do smokers consider the pros and cons of a cigarette before stuffing each one in their mouth? I could make do.

Following a return journey complete with a few nervous bag scans, I stepped into my apartment and wiped the sweat from my brow.  I had made it.  Carefully, I put the Tikka Masala Paste to rest in my cupboard for when the curry itch surfaced once again.

The spicy booty

Now, with a trip to India quickly approaching, I have been stricken with a bit of India-fever.  Sitar music to start the day and a Bollywood classic before bed have fallen into routine.  When the suggestion of curry came up for dinner last night, I was quick  to pony up my secret stash.  The only thing outstanding was naan bread.

Through my stint as boss, I have learned that the best return comes from diversified income.   When I knowingly give multiple mules the same assignment, it is not because I am greedy,  it is only to ensure my bottom line.  In this vein, the need for naan was stratified amongst my acquaintances.  One friend took on  homemade  while another  picked up a package of Paratha  from the local Home Plus.

By the time we convened, a little pillow of dough was resting under a paper towel and the Paratha were ready to go. *After a little clarification  over what the Americans deem “broiling,” the homemade was stuck in the oven and the packaged was slipped in a stove top pan to be charred.   Realizing after the fact that the bread  perhaps should have been stretched out a bit more, the homemade end product  was a little doughy but certainly served the purpose.  The Paratha, on the other hand, was just dreamy. When unwrapped, each slab of dough generally resembled an uncooked tortilla.  When heated on both sides in a pan, the result was crispy yet chewy buttery goodness.  Not greatly distinguished from naan by Wikipedia (an Indian flat-bread that originated in the Indian subcontinent), as far as I’m concerned this discovery has become a new staple.  If only more trips to Bali were in the cards to counter.

The selection

No-yeast Naan Bread

Ingredients:

 

Directions:

  1. Mix together dry ingredients.
  2. Heat oil in pan.
  3. Add milk, egg and yogurt to pan and heat until just warm.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry.
  5. Mix the dough, knead just until held together.
  6. Let rest, covered up to 45 minutes.
  7. On floured surface pat out into two patty shaped surfaces, about 1/2 inch thickness.
  8. Broil under medium heat, turning once.
  9. They will bubble and go slightly brown.

Read more: http://www.food.com/recipe/no-yeast-naan-bread-21155#ixzz1fqdOPVbh

*UPDATED 3/20/2012: After taking a cooking class in India, I learned that the method we used to cook this naan was by no means the best.  The proper technique would be to make the dough into flat patties, then place on the stove top in a lightly oiled pan.  Move around constantly as browning so that it doesn’t stick.  When the initial side starts to brown, flip and proceed with other side.  Next, remove the naan from the pan, and char for just a second on each side over an open stove flame. 

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Making Deviled Eggs With Honey Mustard

Greetings! Let me introduce myself.  From a young age, I have been drawn to the pasta cutters and tangled webs of cheesecloth shoved into the forgotten corners of my mother’s cupboards.  I’ve always appreciated a culinary challenge, and living in Korea never fails to deliver.  Whether it’s banana bread in a rice cooker or a 3-day endeavor for  homemade hummus, I will find a way.

Fueled by passion and PMS, I maintain the attitude that no craving shalt go unnourished.  Join me on my culinary goose chase, and I promise your palate will be rewarded!

As one who lives life through her taste buds, what better way to introduce myself than with  a few of my greatest culinary discoveries thus far. Continue reading

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